Your dryer vent is the biggest fire risk in your home—here's how to clean it
Proper planning prevents fires
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Listen, we get it, doing laundry is tedious and time-consuming, regardless of whether you have the best washing machine on the market or a cheap washer/dryer pair. No one really wants to spend more time than they already do with their washer and dryer.
However, dryers are a common cause of house fires. Yes, statistically, you're much more likely to set your house aflame while cooking in the kitchen, but a significant number of home fires start in the laundry room.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that, between 2010-2014, an average of nearly 16,000 fires each year that were attributed to washers and dryers. Nearly all of those fires were caused by dryers, and the leading cause of those dryer fires? Ignition of "flammable by-products" like lint or dust due to a "failure to clean".
Have you ever heard someone say that they don't like to leave the house while the dryer is running? This is the reason why.
However, for those who weren't scared off, removing the lint from your dryer is a fairly straightforward process. Just follow the steps below, and you'll have greatly reduced the likelihood that your dryer catches on fire.
How to clean your dryer vent, step by step
1. Disconnect your dryer
Shut off your gas line (if you have a gas dryer), unplug the dryer, and pull it away from the wall.
For a thorough cleaning, you’ll have to get behind the machine, which can be a challenge depending on how your laundry room is arranged. Still, that’s where all the nasty stuff is hiding. So grab a screwdriver and get to work.
If you have a gas dryer, you'll have to disconnect the gas line. It's simple, but if you're worried about a gas leak, we recommend you hire a professional to clean your dryer vent for you.
2. Clean the lint trap
Once the gas is shut off and your dryer is completely unplugged, you should remove your lint trap and brush out any lint that made it past the filter. When you're done, vacuum it out to make sure you get every little bit. If possible, use a thin vacuum nozzle that allows you to get deep into the lint trap opening.
3. Clean inside the dryer
Next, remove the dryer’s rear panel and exhaust duct. Every dryer is different, so you should consult your owner’s manual for specifics, but you'll rarely need any tool more complex than a common screwdriver. Once everything is removed, you’ll be greeted by a thick mass of fuzzy lint.
From here on out, it’s simply a matter of removing all the lint and other debris, preferably with a vacuum. Be sure to use nozzle attachments to extend your reach and get into areas you can’t see. Be careful not to suck up those screws you removed earlier!
If you can’t get a vacuum back there, you’ll have to put on some gloves and manually pull the debris out with your hands. Same principle, just much dirtier. You can also use a coat hanger to extend your reach.
4. Clean the dryer duct
At this point, the dryer itself should be clear. But unless you have a ventless dryer, you'll still have 10 to 20 feet of duct to contend with. The easiest way to clean it out is with a leaf blower or some other high-powered fan.
First make sure to clear out any debris in the outdoor dryer vent screen, then stick the leaf blower in the tube (from the indoor end), and let ‘er rip. The filth clogging up the duct will go flying out the other end in the most satisfying way.
If you don't own a leaf blower, then you'll need to use a dryer duct brush. A dryer duct brush can be extended to clean out the entire length of the tube, and if needed, you can also purchase flexible brushes for ducts with bends in them.
You should use the brush to pull lint off the sides of the tube and out of the duct. Remove the lint from the brush and repeat until nothing comes out.
5. Hook the dryer back up
Now that you're done cleaning, all that's left is to reattach everything, turn the gas back on, move the dryer back into place, and kick back. If you do this at least once a year, clean your lint trap between loads, and keep the outside vent clear, there should be virtually no danger of a dryer fire.
6. If all else fails, hire a pro
If you can’t easily reach the duct or simply don’t have the tools to clear it, there’s no shame in hiring a professional. A quick search online will tell you what local companies offer dryer vent cleaning services.
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